Page images

carried above the terrifying noise. "It's the plates bucklin' between the ribs."

"Plates! Hell! we 're sinkin'!" Neville rushed in from the engine


"Back to your fires, men, or we 'll all drown! Steam, keep up-" He was shouting at full-lung power, but his cries were cut short. Again the deafening reports started at the bows. Again, crash after crash, the sounds came tearing aft as if a machine-gun were raking the vessel from bow to stern. At any time these noises would bring terror to men locked below decks; but now, in the half-filled cargo spaces, each crashing report was like the bursting of a ten-inch shell.

Neville went among the watch, urging, commanding, assuring them that these sounds meant no real danger to the ship. He finally ended the panic by beating the more frightened ones back to their boilers.

Then for hours, at every plunge of the ship, the deafening boom of buckling plates continued until the watch was crazed by the sound.

This new terror began between four and five in the morning, when the men had served double time under the grueling strain. At sunrise another misery was added to their torture: the rain increased suddenly, and fell a steady cataract to the decks. This deluge and the flying spray sent gallons of water down the stack; striking the breeching-plates, it was instantly turned to steam and boiling water. As the fagged stokers bent before the boilers, the hot water, dripping from the breeching, washed scalding channels through the coal-dust down their bare backs. They hailed this new torment with louder curses, but continued to endure it for hours, while outside the hurricane raged, with no end, no limit, to its


Since the beginning of the watch the bilge-pumps had had all they could do to handle the leakage coming from the seams of the strained hull. Twice Neyille had taken the throttle and sent his oiler to clear the suctions. The violent lurching of the ship had churned up every

ounce of sediment that had lain undisturbed beneath the floor-plates since the vessel's launching. Sometime between seven and eight all the bilge-pumps clogged at the same moment, and the water began rising at a rate that threatened the fires. It became a question of minutes. between life and death for all hands. Neville, working frantically to clear the pumps, yelled to the oiler to leave the throttle and come to him. The water, gaining fast, showed him that their combined efforts were hopeless. He ran to the boiler-room for more aid. Here the water had risen almost to the fires; as the ship rolled, it slushed up between the floor-plates and ran in oily streams about the men's feet. Again panic seized the


"Come on, lads!" Sullivan shouted above the infernal din. "We'll be drowned in this hell-hole!"

In the next second he was half-way up the ladder; below him, clinging to the rungs like frightened apes, hung other stokers.

"Come back, you fool!". Neville shouted. "Open that deck-door, and you 'll swamp the ship!"

Dan continued to climb.

"Come down or I'll fire!"

"Shoot an' be damned to you!" Dan called back.

The report of Neville's revolver was lost in the noise; but the bullet, purposely sent high, spattered against the steel plate above Dan's head. He looked down. Neville, swaying with the pitching floor, was aiming true for his second shot. Cursing at the top of his voice, Dan scrambled down the ladder, pushing the men below him to the floor.

"Back to your boilers!" Neville ordered; but the stokers, huddled in a frightened group, refused to leave the ladder.

It was only a matter of seconds now before the fires would be drenched. Bilgewater was splashing against the under boiler-plates, filling the room with dense steam. Neville left the men and raced for the engine-room. He found Larry and the oiler working desperately at the

valve-wheel of the circulating-pump. Neville grasped the wheel, and gave the best he had to open the valve. This manifold, connecting the pump with the bilges, was intended only for emergency use. It had not been opened for months, and was now rusted tight. The three men, straining every muscle, failed to budge the wheel. After the third hopeless attempt, Larry let go, and without a word bolted through the passage to the fire-room.

"You miserable quitter!" Neville screamed after him, and bent again to the wheel.

As he looked up, despairing of any chance to loosen the rusted valve, Larry came back on the run, carrying a coalpick handle. He thrust it between the spokes of the wheel.

As the men slunk back through the passage Dan growled :

"May that man some day burn in hell!" "Don't be wishin' him no such luck," an angry voice answered; "wish him down here wid us."

THE morning dragged past; noon came, marking the sixteenth hour that the men, imprisoned below the sea-swept decks, had struggled to save the ship. Sundown followed, and the second night of their unbroken toil began. They stuck to it, stood up somehow under the racking grind, their nerves quivering, their bodies craving food, their eyes gritty from the urge of sleep, while always the hideous noises of the gale screamed in their ears. The machine-gun roar of buckling plates, rak

"Now, Mr. Neville, all together!" His ing the battered hull, never ceased. Celtic jaw was set hard.

All three threw their weight against the handle. The wheel stirred.

As they straightened for another effort, a louder noise of hissing steam sounded from the boilers, and the fire-room force, mad with fright, came crowding through the passage to the higher floor of the engine-room.

"Quick! Together!" Neville gasped.
The wheel moved an inch.
"Once more! Now!"

The wheel turned and did not stop. The three men dropped the lever, seized the wheel, and threw the valve wide open. "Good work, men!" Neville cried, and fell back exhausted.

The centrifugal pump was thrown in at the last desperate moment. When the rusted valve finally opened, water had risen to the lower grate-bars under every boiler in the fire-room. But once in action, the twelve-inch suction of the giant pump did its work with magic swiftness. In less than thirty seconds the last gallon of water in the bilges had been lifted and sent, rushing through the discharge, overboard.

Neville faced the boiler-room crew sternly.

"Now, you cowards, get to your fires!" he said.

With each crawling minute the men. grew more silent, more desperate. Dan Sullivan let no chance pass to vent his spleen on Larry. Twice during the day his fellow-stokers, watching the familiar scene, saw the big man reach the point of crushing the small one; but the ever-expected blow did not fall.

Shortly after midnight the first hope came to the exhausted men that their fight might not be in vain. Though the buckling plates still thundered, though the floor under their feet still pitched at crazy angles, there was a "feel" in the fire-room that ribs and beams and rivets were not so near the breaking-point.

Neville came to the end of the passage. "The hurricane 's blowing itself to death," he shouted. "Stick to it, boys, for an hour longer; the second watch can reach us by then."

The hour passed, but no relief came. The wind had lost some force, but the seas still broke over the bows, pouring tons of water to the deck. The vessel pitched as high, rolled as deep, as before. As the men fired their boilers they rested the filled scoops on the floor and waited for the ship to roll down. Then a quick jerk of the fire-door chain, a quick heave of the shovel, and the door was snapped shut before the floor rolled up

again. Making one of these hurried. passes, Larry swayed on tired legs. He managed the toss and was able to close the door before he fell hard against Dan. His sullen enemy instantly launched a new tirade, fiercer, more blasphemous, than any before. He ended a stream of oaths, and rested the scoop ready for his throw.

"I'll learn yuh, yuh snivelin'-" The ship rolled deep. Dan jerked the fire-door open-"yuh snivelin' shrimp!" He glared at Larry as he made the pass. He missed the opening. His shovel struck hard against the boiler front. The jar knocked Dan to the floor, pitched that moment at its steepest angle. He clutched desperately to gain a hold on the smooth-worn steel plates, his face distorted by fear as he slid down to the fire.

Larry, crying a shrill warning, sprang between Sullivan and the open furnace. He stooped, and with all the strength he could gather shoved the big stoker from danger. Then above the crashing sounds. a shriek tore the steam-clouded air of the fire-room. Larry had fallen!


As his feet struck the ash-door, the ship rolled up. A cascade falling from Dan's fire had buried Larry's legs to the knees under a bed of white-hot coals. shrieked again the cry of the mortally hurt as Dan dragged him too late from before. the open door.

"Mouse! Mouse!" Horror throbbed in Sullivan's voice. "You 're hurted bad!" He knelt, holding Larry in his arms, while others threw water on the blazing coals. "Speak, lad!" Dan pleaded. "Speak to me!"

The fire-room force stood over them silenced. Accident, death even, they always expected; but to see Dan Sullivan show pity for any living thing, and, above all, for the Bunker Mouse

The lines of Larry's tortured face eased. "It's the last hurt I 'll be havin', Dan," he said before he fainted.

"Don't speak the word, Mouse, an' you just after savin' me life!" Then the men in the fire-room saw a miracle, for tears filled the big stoker's eyes.

Neville had heard Larry's cry and rushed to the boiler-room.

"For God's sake! what's happened now?"

Dan pointed a shaking finger. Neville looked once at what only a moment before had been the legs and feet of a man. As he turned quickly from the sight the engineer's face was like chalk.

"Here, two of you," he called unsteadily, "carry him to the engine-room." Dan threw the men roughly aside. "Leave him be," he growled. "Don't a one of you put hand on him!" He lifted Larry gently and, careful of each step, crossed the swaying floor.

"Lay him there by the dynamo," Neville ordered when they had reached the engine-room.

Dan hesitated.

"T ain't fittin', sir, an' him so bad' hurt. Let me be takin' him to the storeroom.

Neville looked doubtfully up the nar row stairs.

"We can't get him there with this sea running."

Sullivan spread his legs wide, took both of Larry's wrists in one hand, and swung the unconscious man across his back. He strode to the iron stairs and began to climb. As he reached the first grating Larry groaned. Dan stopped dead; near him the great cross-heads were plunging steadily up and down.

"God, Mr. Neville, did he hit ag'in' somethin'?" The sweat of strain and fear covered his face.

The vessel leaped to the crest of a wave, and dropped sheer into the trough beyond. "No; but for God's sake, man, go on! You'll pitch with him to the floor if she does that again!"

Dan, clinging to the rail with his free hand, began climbing the second flight. At the top grating Neville sprang past him to the store-room door.

"Hold him a second longer," he called, and spread an armful of cotton waste on the vise bench.

Dan laid Larry on the bench. He straightened his own great body for a


"Dan, clinging to the rail with his free hand, began climbing the second flight"

moment, then sat down on the floor and cried.

Neville, pretending not to see Dan's distress, brought more waste. As he placed it beneath his head Larry groaned. Dan, still on the floor, wrung his hands, calling on the saints and the Virgin to lighten the pain of this man it had been his joy to torture.

Neville turned to him.

"Get up from there!" he cried sharply. "Go see what you can find to help him."

Dan left the room, rubbing his redflanneled arm across his eyes. He returned quickly with a can of cylinder oil, and poured it slowly over the horribly burned limbs.

"There ain't no bandages, sir; only this." He held out a shirt belonging to the engineer; his eyes pleaded his question. Neville nodded, and Dan tore the shirt in strips. When he finished the task, strange to his clumsy hands, Larry had regained consciousness and lay trying piti fully to stifle his moans.

"Does it make you feel aisier, Mouse?" Dan leaned close to the quivering lips to catch the answer.

"It helps fine," Larry answered, and fainted again.

"You'll be leavin' me stay wid him, sir?" Dan begged. ""T was for me he 's come to this."

Neville gave consent, and left the two men together.

BETWEEN four and five in the morning, when Neville's watch had lived through thirty-three unbroken hours of the fearful grind, a shout that ended in a screaming laugh ran through the fire-room. High above the toil-crazed men a door had opened and closed. A form, seen dimly through the smoke and steam, was moving backward down the ladder. Again the door opened; another man came through. Every shovel in the room fell to the steel floor; every man in the room shouted or laughed or cried.

The engine-room door, too, had opened, admitting the chief and his assistant. Not until he had examined each mechanical

tragedy below did the chief give time to the human one above.

"Where's that man that 's hurt?" he asked as he came, slowly, from an inspection of the burned-out bearings down the shaft alley.

Neville went with him to the storeroom. Dan, sagging under fatigue, clung to the bench where Larry lay moaning.

"You can go now, Sullivan," Neville told him.

Dan raised his head, remorse, entreaty, stubbornness in his look.

"Let me be! I'll not leave him!" The chief turned to Neville. "What's come over that drunk?" he asked.

"Ever since the Mouse got hurt, Sullivan 's acted queer, just like a woman." "Get to your quarters, Sullivan," the chief ordered. "We'll take care of this

[blocks in formation]

AT midday the San Gardo's captain got a shot at the sun. Though his vessel had been headed steadily northeast for more than thirty hours, the observation showed that she had made twenty-eight miles sternway to the southwest. By two in the afternoon the wind had dropped to half a gale, making a change of course possible. The captain signaled full speed ahead, and the ship, swinging about, began limping across the gulf, headed once more toward Galveston.

Neville, who had slept like a stone, came on deck just before sunset. The piled-up seas, racing along the side, had lost their breaking crests; the ship rose and fell with some degree of regularity. He called the boatswain and went to the store-room.

They found Larry in one of his conscious moments.

"Well, Mouse, we 're going to fix you

« PreviousContinue »